Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2020

As of August 2001, I’ve been writing Sonderbooks for 20 years!

To celebrate, I decided to write 20 posts, highlighting favorite books I reviewed each year of Sonderbooks. I didn’t intend for it to take so long, but here at last is my post celebrating some of the most wonderful books I read in 2020.

2020 of course was the year I did some working from home during the pandemic and learned how to get our library’s eaudiobooks on my phone. Some of these books I fondly remember listening to while doing a jigsaw puzzle.

For Grown-Ups

A Dance with Fate, by Juliet Marillier

Book Two in Juliet Marillier’s latest Celtic fantasy trilogy. I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of Book Three.

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

The story of a girl who’s been abandoned again and again, but who learns to understand the natural world with all its beauty and wonder — and a mystery and a dramatic courtroom scene as well.

The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George

A joyful book about a Paris bookseller who unhooks his book barge on the Seine and travels to the land of his lost love — picking up companions along the way.

Know My Name, by Chanel Miller

The true story of the young woman who was raped by a Stanford swimmer and left for dead. She writes about the entire ordeal and how much she went through during the whole long trial. An important, though painful story.

My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me, by Jason B. Rosenthal

This is a follow up to the “Modern Love” column Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote in 2017, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” that was published a few days before her death from cancer. Jason Rosenthal tells the story of their marriage and joyful life together — and then has wise things to say about navigating loss without forgetting the joyful times. The author reads the audiobook himself, making it all the more personal.

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, by Layla F. Saad

This book, more than any other, helps you come to terms with racist attitudes, conscious and unconscious, in your personal history and in your heart. A powerful though uncomfortable book that asks you to do some ongoing work.

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, by Maggie Smith

I still read a couple pages from this book every morning. It’s full of inspirational pep talks about carrying on after loss and helping you go on to new things.

Jesus Undefeated: Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment, by Keith Giles, and Grace Saves All: The Necessity of Christian Universalism, by David Artman

Two more books explaining the teaching of Christian Universalism and how strongly the Bible supports this teaching. They also explain how this teaching honors a God of love and results in more loving Christians.

Shameless: A Case for Not Feeling Bad About Feeling Good (About Sex), by Nadia Bolz-Weber

A healing and redemptive way of looking at sex and spirituality, attempting to heal some things we may have heard from the church.

For Teens:

The Return of the Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

The amazing conclusion to one of my all-time favorite series, as the Medes attack, and it will take all of Eugenides’ cleverness to save the smaller countries of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis.

Igniting Darkness, by Robin LaFevers

Another series culmination — this time it’s technically finishing a duology, but that duology was a follow-up to a trilogy, all of them rich historical fiction about the duchy of Brittany and young women who are daughters of the god of Death, and trained in a convent to be courtly assassins supporting the duchess of Brittany. Now she’s been married to the king of France and needs support even more.

The Queen of Nothing, by Holly Black

And here’s a trilogy conclusion. This one is about a teen who’s grown up in the faerie court and manages to get power over the High King of faerie. But there are many twists and turns and as this volume begins, it seems her power is gone. And if she doesn’t act, he may not be High King much longer, anyway.

Red Hood, by Elana K. Arnold

Here’s a fairy tale retelling for the time of the Me Too movement. The Little Red Riding Hood figure in this novel is not prey for wolves — she hunts them down. Then the next day there will be a dead man in the woods….

Elatsoe, by Darcie Little Badger

A beautiful paranormal tale set in an alternate reality where different cultures use different magic. Our Native American main character has a ghost dog, and dreams about her uncle who died. He tells her he was murdered. Rather than try to do something on her own, Elatsoe’s whole family works together with her to bring justice. It’s not easy, as they’re working against discrimination and abusive use of power.

The Guinevere Deception, by Kirsten White

A tale from Arthurian legend — from the perspective of Guinevere, who is an imposter put in place by Merlin. And she is forgetting who she really is.

Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas

I love the trans main character in this novel, who is at the age where he should be trained to do magic — but magic is very gendered in his family, and his family needs to see he is a brujo. So he sets out to do magic on his own, with some disturbing results.

The Bridge, by Bill Konigsberg

This book explores what might have been. Two teens come to a bridge at the same time. We find out what happens if the girl jumps, but not the boy. Then if the boy jumps, but not the girl. Then if they both jump. And finally what happens if neither one jumps. It’s surprisingly suspenseful and moving.

Even If We Break, by Marieke Nijkamp

A thriller set in an isolated cabin where people start dying, one by one. I enjoyed the well-drawn trans characters in this edge-of-my-seat book.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, read by Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds remixed Dr. Kendi’s award-winning work on the history of racism, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, and made it accessible to teens and easily understandable — resulting in a book that’s more easily understandable for adults, too.

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese

Another effective adaptation of an adult history book — this time looking at the history of the United States from the perspective of Indigenous people. It’s a shocking and sad story, but an important one.

For Children:

Fighting Words, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

It’s hard to describe how good Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s books are — about girls who’ve been abused, who manage to rise above and see that they’re special. My words don’t do them justice. Read this book!

Prairie Lotus, by Linda Sue Park

The setting of Little House on the Prairie with a half-Chinese girl as the main character. She gets some different responses than Laura Ingalls Wilder did, but the story is told as a tribute to the original books.

Wink, by Rob Harrell

A story about a kid dealing with cancer in his eye — told with lots of humor mixed into the poignancy.

When Stars Are Scattered, by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

A powerful and touching true story about a boy growing up in a refugee camp while taking care of his younger brother with special needs and always hoping to find his mother. This book is wonderful both in graphic novel form and audiobook form.

Create Your Own Secret Language: Invent Codes, Ciphers, Hidden Messages, and More, by David J. Peterson, illustrated by Ryan Goldsberry

This amazing book starts with codes and cyphers and goes on to teach kids how to create their own language complete with phonemes and writing systems and grammar. The author helped create languages for the Game of Thrones series.

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera, by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann

This is a detailed and child-friendly look at the life of a honeybee, with gorgeous close-up paintings to illustrate everything.

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity: A Tale of the Genius Ramanujan, by Amy Alznauer, illustrated by Daniel Miyares

A picture book biography of the great mathematical genius Ramanujan, who came up with amazing mathematical insights before he was trained, insights that mathematicians are still working to understand and appreciate.

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away, by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

A touching picture book about two best friends — as one moves away from the neighborhood.

Rita and Ralph’s Rotten Day, by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Pete Oswald

A wonderful picture book for storytime, as Rita and Ralph go “down the hill and up the hill and down the hill and up the hill.”

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